The DL Chronicles, which premiered in 2007, broke ground not only as the first series centering on Black queer love to be nominated for and win a GLAAD Media Award (the following year) but also as the first microbudgeted half-hour digital drama to air on a national cable network (Here TV).
Created by filmmakers and real-life couple Quincy LeNear and Deondray Gossett, the series focused on Black queer men who lived double lives, with each episode featuring a different cast. The narrator and recurring protagonist, journalist Chadwick Williams (played by Damian Toofeek Raven), weaved through these stories as part of his research for a book and in the process viewers were immersed in the characters’ quests for belonging, survival, and validation. It’s only now that film historians, critics, and activists are paying homage to the vision LeNear and Gossett helped to create. Recently, Pose creator Steven Canals and star Billy Porter, credited The DL Chronicles and Noah’s Arc for its pioneering depiction of Black queer love and sex.
“Someone once said that being a trailblazer, you don’t always get your praises, you know?” says LeNear, who married Gossett on live TV officiated by Queen Latifah at the 56th Grammy Awards in 2014. “When you’re trailblazing, you’re making a way for the people who come behind you, but you’re always ahead of everyone else, so you don’t necessarily reap the laurels and compliments the people who come behind you do.” But, “it feels good to be acknowledged.”
LeNear and Gossett were young filmmakers when the original series was released. While they made it into big rooms at HBO and Showtime, executives didn’t know how to package stories with all Black queer characters — mainly because there was nothing like it at the time.
“We were on the precipice of something we didn’t recognize,” LeNear explains. “Those rooms weren’t ready for what we had to offer yet. It was some years later you see this surplus of African-American stories and African-American queer characters. At that time [networks] liked what we did, but I don’t think they knew where we fit in. They hadn’t yet made that change. The timing was a little strange because the whole idea of being the first. Nobody knows what to do with the first.”
Still, while the creators didn’t realize the gravity of what they were doing, Raven, the actor, certainly did.
“It was first time I read a script that was reflecting the lives of gay Black men where it didn’t feel like it was different from any other script,” says Raven, who this year was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Best Principal Performance in a Daytime Program for The Chadwick Journals. “I saw it as something extraordinary, and I had a feeling it was going somewhere.”
“We saw a void in the genre,” Gossett adds. “There was a lot of queer stuff being made at that time, but it didn’t really feature people of color. We wanted to create something that we wanted to see ourselves. At that time, the whole ‘down low’ phenomenon was this buzz topic and the media often portrayed it in this very one-sided, one-dimensional way. We weren’t really talking about the impetus for a lot of these men who feel like it’s not just a choice but it’s a survival instinct, that they live these double lives in the closet. So we combined the void with the message we wanted to send with a more layered, detailed version of why men live in the closet, especially African-American men.” In recent years, a whole new generation has caught wind of The DL Chronicles. “The hunger is still there,” Gossett continues. “We’ve seen so much growth with TV, that more people are out of the closet, they’re living in their truth in a way we weren’t allowed to 15 years ago. They’re hungry for these stories; they want to see themselves.”
LeNear, Gossett, and Raven are continuing to break ground. Raven recently finished filming Lazarus, where he plays a supervillain who has the power to come back from the dead. LeNear and Gossett will soon release their highly anticipated screen adaptation of Richard Bruce Nugent’s Smoke, Lilies, & Jade, set during the Harlem Renaissance and narrated by Billy Porter, featuring trans actress Alexandra Grey (Empire).
“Tell a story you’re passionate about,” Gossett advises young creators. “When we had nothing, we didn’t know how it was going to come together. That we appeared on set with a full crew is a testament to the fact that we were in alignment with what we were supposed to be doing.”
Raven adds, “When you make something from your heart that is filled with your passion, people will come.”